Moscow will fight former nuclear chief’s extradition to the United States

Publish date: May 20, 2005

Written by: Charles Digges

The Russian Foreign ministry requested this week that Switzerland send the detained former Russian atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov back to Moscow for prosecution and to reject demands to extradite him to the United States, where he is facing charges of diverting $9m in US nuclear aid money to personal businesses, among other accusations.

According to officials with the US department of State, Washington has expressed its dissatisfaction with the way Moscow is proceeding in the case.

Adamov was arrested in Bern on May 2 while visiting his daughter to help her sort out problems with a number of banks that has frozen her accounts.

Lawyers for former Atomic Power Energy Yevgeny Adamov, 65, who is being held in a Swiss prison on a US Warrant issued by the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Wednesday told Bellona web that they were appealing against his detention on the basis that Switzerland violated his immunity as a former minister. If extradited to the United States and found guilty, Adamov faces up to 60 years in prison and a fine of $1.75 m.

Nonetheless, Adamov is "confident that he will soon return to Russia," his Swiss lawyer, Stefan Wehrenberg, said. International law experts in Switzerland confirmed this may well be the case.

The United States has so far not issued an official request for Adamov’s extradition to Swiss authorities, said his lawyers. It has until the end of June to do so. The United States has, however, prepared an indictment, reviewed by Bellona Web, reading several dozen pages detailing Adamov’s private bank transactions through his US accounts and indicting him with conspiracy to transfer stolen money and securities, conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering and tax evasion.

The indictment also includes Adamov’s business partner, Russia-born US national Mark Kaushansky.

Russia had originally appeared to distance itself from Adamov after his May 2 arrest in Bern, noting he was facing charges in connection with his commercial activities in the early 1990s prior to his appointment as Russian atomic energy minister.

But a Moscow court on Thursday—in a possible effort to countermand the as yet unsent US extradition request—issued an extradition request of its own, charging Adamov with fraud in Russia. Some Russian law-makers are so anxious, it seems they will gladly accept him dead or alive.

One Duma deputy from the ultra-nationalist—and misnamed—Liberal Democratic Party suggested during parliamentary discussions suggested that in the event Adamov was not extradited to Russia, he should be “eliminated.”

Boris Gryzlov, head of Russia’s Interior Ministry, was quoted as saying “Yes, we will discuss that.”

Money vs. politics and nuclear secrecy
At the centre of this tug-of-war are Moscow’s obvious concerns that Russia’s nuclear secrets will fall into the hands of the United States. Adamov was, during his tenure as Russia’s atomic minister from 1998 to 2001, privy to both how US nuclear threat reduction funding was spent as well as classified material pertaining to Russia’s monolithic civilian and military nuclear industrial complex. This threatens to charge the case with international political and security concerns.

Seeking to address this threat, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its Wednesday statement that the accusations against Adamov could relate to his activities as a government minister and that any prosecution should take place in Russia rather than in a foreign criminal jurisdiction.

“We believe that if there are grounds for criminal prosecution of Adamov, this should take place in Russia according to Russian law,” said the ministry.

"The Swiss side has been informed through diplomatic channels of our serious concern over the detainment of Yevgeny Adamov, which was made, we believe, without due regard for certain norms of international law," the statement continues.

The Foreign Ministry continued: "We proceed from the assumption that criminal persecution of the former minister and former member of the Government of Russia in the territory of a foreign state and his extradition for this purpose to a third country bears on the national security interests of Russia."

According to Russian diplomats interviewed for this article, at least several charges brought against Adamov date back to the time when he was still Russia’s minister of atomic energy.

"According to the norms of international law, such actions have immunity to foreign criminal legislation, which rules out the possibility of criminal persecution of Yevgeny Adamov in a foreign state without the agreement of concerned Russian agencies," the Russian Foreign Ministry statement read.

A spokesman from the Russian Ministry of Justice, who asked that his name not be used, told Bellona Web that he was not sure that such immunity extends to former members of the Russian government.

Some international experts say that Washington is using the charges against to derive valuable information about Russia’s atomic weapons programme.

"What’s at stake is not the money that Adamov purportedly stole or embezzled, but the information that he has about Russia’s nuclear programmes," said Andre Liebich, central and east European expert at Geneva’s Graduate Institute for International Studies in an interview this week..

Liebich said the Adamov case represents Washington’s attempt to put pressure on Moscow to come clean about its former and possibly current nuclear programmes, and is another sign of deteriorating relations between the two nuclear powers.

"The US has been very keen to see these programmes wound down and the arms decommissioned and has been paying in part for this process. Adamov, of course, is at the very centre of this," Liebich said.

Long delays expected
Helen Keller, professor of international law at Zurich University, says the whole case could undergo considerable delays.

Keller said that once the US sends its formal request for Adamov’s extradition, Swiss authorities will examine whether the US and Russian requests deal with the same offences in order to pass judgement on their "seriousness".

"Adamov has the right to make representations," said Keller. "He could, for example, assert that the entire affair is a political process. This would be something the Swiss authorities would have to examine seriously. He can also appeal any decision."

Keller said the fact that Russia handed in its request first and that the case involved a Russian citizen was in Moscow’s favour. But she added that the Swiss would also have to take into account the prospects of Adamov receiving a fair trial in Russia.

"There are concerns that the Russian courts are not independent, as we’ve seen with the Yukos oil company trial," she said.

Russia’s Case
Adamov has long been a controversial figure within Russian nuclear circles. In 2000, legislation legalising the import of foreign radioactive waste to Russia for storage and eventual reprocessing was ram-rodded though the Duma, despite public opinion polls indicating some 90 percent of the Russia population was against the legislation package. After its passage, many Duma members openly admitted they had taken bribes and other favours from Adamov.

Adamov came under increasing fire in connection with the legislative package but he insisted the accusations were in retaliation for his refusal to be corrupted. "Many times I was offered million-dollar bribes," he said in a 2002 interview with The Moscow Times, an English-language daily. "But I always refused."

At the same time, the Duma accused Adamov of illegally setting up companies inside and outside Russia, including a consulting firm called Omeka registered in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. the United States government was also investigating the relationship between Adamov’s Pittsburgh-based consulting firm and a company that buys down-blended weapons-grade uranium taken from old Russian warheads, and sells it to American nuclear power plants.

Since leaving the minister’s post, Adamov had officially joined NIKIET and worked on projects to improve safety at Russia’s 11 RBMK-1000 reactors still in operation. He nonetheless maintains an unofficial advisory roll with Rosatom, the Ministry of Atomic Energy’s successor, according to Rosatom and international officials interviewed by Bellona Web.

The Swiss dilemma
The Swiss government has extradition treaties with both Russia and the United States, and under the present complicated circumstances, will take its decision "in consideration of all the circumstances" a government official in Bern said in telephone interview Friday.

These include the seriousness and place where the offences were committed, the dates of the extradition requests, the nationality of the person involved and the possibility of subsequent extradition to another state.

Swiss authorities expected Russia to exert pressure on them to to ensure Adamov is sent home.

"It’s perfectly likely that Moscow would take reprisals against Swiss interests and citizens in Russia," said Liebich.

He said this could take the form of finding a Swiss company or official in violation of Russian law. "It’s difficult to do business in Russia without violating one law or another," he said.